The China Bird. The book was a winner of the Hookline Novel Competition, a competition judged by reading groups. Our reading group took part in the competition, and I have to say the entries were very mixed, some excellent, some awful. It made you realise just what editors have to wade through in order to get a decent read.
Bryony Doran's book is in the excellent category. It is a tender study of the relationship between an artist and her model. It is even more interesting because the model is Edward, an inhibited older man with disability, who up until meeting the artist had a mundane and regimented life. When he meets Angela the art student in the intimacy of her studio, questions arise for both of them as their relationship becomes more sensual, and their lives begin to shift in unexpected ways. The four main characters are very well drawn, and this is the sort of book where the subtle nature of the developing relationships is what pulls you through the narrative. One book group commentator said it reminded her of Anita Shreve.
Bryony told us that her book was inspired partly by seeing Alison Lappa on the TV, and partly by observing a mother and son interacting in a local tea shop. Something about their theatricality interested her, and what began as a short story grew into a novel.
As an example of how to talk to a book group, Bryony's calm and focussed manner engaged us all from the start. She had chosen three short very different passages to read, which reacquainted us with the characters and enabled us to appreciate being read to. She then told us about her process of writing the book in an amazingly frank way - telling us about the different drafts, how it had lost 35,000 words in the crafting process, the ups and downs.
She described some of the early constructive and not so constructive criticism, the rejections from agents and publishers, and her determination to plug away at it until it became a better book. And I have to say that the failures on the way are just as interesting to the audience as the finished product.
There was plenty of time for questions from the floor, where we could ask more about the detail of the story, and find out about Bryony's research. As a writer, it was a privilege to hear about about another's process, and Bryony was very generous in not holding back. Thanks Bryony!
The China Bird is available from Amazon.